Energy upgrading, once a much resented waste treatment channel, seems to be regaining public esteem, although certainly not as a priority channel but as a complementary channel. Elisabeth Poncelet from the Sustainable Consumption and Waste Management Division of the ADEME (French Agency for Environment and Energy Management), will facilitate the workshop on that topic in the next Assises des Déchets.
One thing needs to be clarified first: Is incineration becoming a first choice solution again?
Absolutely not. The priority remains the development of prevention and recycling, and there should be no slackening in efforts in this regard. Energy upgrading is not a mass waste treatment solution any more – only one incinerator is built in France every year, while the other types of treatment channels are growing at a steady pace. Nevertheless, it is important to divert the maximum of remaining waste from storage. Besides, the aim of the European strategy is to consider waste as a resource by 2020, and waste management policies are supposed to incorporate resource conservation. For all these reasons, energy upgrading is one of avenues that need to be further explored. Waste, as a source of energy, is easy to mobilise, although environmental and health concerns should never be neglected.
Hence the position of incineration is being re-determined by energy perspectives rather than the treatment method in itself?
It’s at least part of the explanation. In a difficult economic period and after several years of price increases, it has become necessary to balance and stabilise the cost of waste treatment. It is all the more true as the foreseeable energy price increases will make waste recovering or upgrading more competitive. The other element in the analysis is the notion of complementariness, in a multi-channel scheme: energy upgrading channel is integrated with other channels in accordance with prevailing hierarchy, which entails giving priority to prevention and recycling, but also enabling local communities to work out a comprehensive approach for the treatment of their waste.
Does this mean that there has been some technical and organisational progress in the field?
Yes, definitely, especially as regards efforts for preparation and upgrading of SRF (solid recovered fuel), of liquid or gaseous bio-fuel and of biogas, often only requiring the adaptation of the existing industrial sites and for which, therefore, there is a certain social acceptation. There is also increasing ownership by industries, as potential users, of such energy sources, with closer ties between them and waste management industrial players. There is progress, at last, in terms of community approaches emerging here and there, in which energy upgrading may appear as the last but necessary link of circular economy. Workshop 6 of the Assises is intended to foster all-encompassing discussions on national, European and global economic, social and technological challenges, including many field experiences.
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